Friday, February 25, 2011

can we shift this line just a bit, please?

Just a little bit to the north, please? I don't mind rain - it'll melt down the huge, dirty snowbanks. But I really don't need more snow.

K? Thnxbai.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

a knitting saga...

It all started with this gorgeous sweater. I got it at the Salvation Army store for all of about $4. I mean... really! And, it's green!

Look at the workmanship! The wool on the inside was twisted after every stitch, so not only is it really, really warm, there are no loops for my fingers to get stuck in. And note that the neckband and the button bands are crocheted, not ribbed... makes them very snug and they keep their shape perfectly. Pity I can't crochet.

So during the volcanic eruptions in Iceland last year, I saw an image of an Icelander leading his pony to safety, and he had on this gorgeous sweater in shades of blue. I got a hankering to have a similar sweater. Alas, one cannot compel the perfect sweater to turn up in the thrift store on command... but wait! I was only a few weeks away from finishing my MA... I could MAKE one! I bought the wool, and got knitting. I finished the sweater at my cousin Geraldine's house in England, and when I got home, I entered it into the Fair. I won a 3rd place ribbon... the first place winner was not only a stunning Fisherman's pattern, but the knitter was also the alpaca raiser who'd shorn and spun her own yarn. She won fair and square. (I don't recall who won 2nd place. I was too boggled by the 1st place sweater!)

Behold the shades-of-blue sweater. I do love it!

While I was in England, I stopped into my favorite wool shop in the Shambles in York, formerly called "Sheepish" but under new management as "Ramshambles". Exercising superhuman restraint, I came home with only one skein of wool, with the intent to learn to make socks. When Karelia came to visit in August, she got me started.

Alas that I did not read the directions! I ribbed and ribbed on freaking tiny, toothpick-diameter double-pointed needles. Then I realized that I had two choices: I could either rip out several inches of that wretched ribbing (ugh!) or I could deal with the fact that I would have to rib that much again on the mate, when I made it. I couldn't deal with it, and I had some of the gorgeous, soft, cream wool left, so...

I raided my stash of Lopi up in the attic and started another Icelandic sweater. I looked through all the pattern books I have on hand, and didn't find a cardigan pattern I liked better, so I did the same pattern again. Alas, I ran out of the cream wool and had to buy more.

Once I'd finished it, I thought about starting the Fisherman's sweater I've been hoping to make... I've got the wool - rich, deep green - I know you're astonished beyond words - but honestly, cables terrify me. And I was tired. And it was cold. And the children were home for two snow days in a row. So... I could have dealt with the sock problem. Did I?

Heck no! I started a third Icelandic sweater. There was, after all, lots of the cream wool left over, y'know?

I can see already that this cream wool is going to end up like my Grandpa Chandler's mashed potatoes and gravy. He never could get them to come out even. He'd take more potatoes, then run out of gravy. He'd put on more gravy, then run out of potatoes. With any luck, I'll end up with Icelandics in every color of the rainbow before I give up!

Because I'm made of awesome... or at least, I'm filled with awesome - now!

If you're hungry on a cold night in New England, here are some recommended procedures:

First, own a really cool, vintage, fully-restored, 1909 Glenwood K cookstove.
Ain't it purty?

Yes, I'm bragging. I'd apologize, but it'd be insincere.

Next, feed nice dry wood into the firebox until it's nice and hot. The oven was about 300* F at this point. Then take a dozen and a half fresh eggs from your hens. Separate the first dozen, and give the yolks to the dogs. Then crack the last 6 and put the whole egg into the pan. Add fresh raw milk, and whisk well. Toss in some salt, garlic, and onion. Rummage around in your fridge and find some gruyere and some manchego. Grate them finely, and mix the egg/milk/cheese goop up well. Then take a pound of fresh asparagus, chop it into 1" pieces, and mix the pieces into the goop. Put the pan into the cookstove's 300* oven and ignore it for an hour or so.

Voila! A really exquisite crustless quiche. It was obscenely good :)


So it's been snowing here in New England. I mean, that's not normally news, but the volume we have had, combined with the temperatures, well, we've made the national news. So here are some pix from before the latest storm. The rabbits' coats are SO thick and warm this year!

This is rime ice. This is what happens when fog (or steam) freezes. The steam in question is rising from the galvanized bucket I keep under the downspout, and in which there is presently a really fabulous heating element. It's not free hot water, but it's free water. Rime, interestingly, comes straight from the Old English hrim, meaning exactly what rime means now.

You'd never know that a sky that looks like that would be vomiting 8" of snow and ice within 24 hours! Notice especially my sparkling new stove pipe....

The icicles are a rarity here. I can't remember the last time we had icicles like these.

This is the corner where the kitchen roofline (right) meets the sun room roof (left) and the two-story part of the house (center). The poor gutters just can't keep up.

This is my bathroom window from the back yard. The icicles as of today are greater in number and size!

Although this side of the barn faces east, apparently the roof heated up enough for all the snow to come sliding off. Regrettably, some of the snow ended up in my nicely carved footpath, and that became a REAL problem when next I had to get the snowblower out there after the following storm. The blower did NOT want to go over that hump, and my back ached like anything the next day from having to wrestle with it. I did, finally, clear out not only the new snow, but also that mogul there.

This is the west side of the barn. That overhanging glacier has doubled in size, at least, with the last storm. Doesn't much matter, though, as the door on that side has been frozen to the ground for weeks. It'll be spring before I can get it open! Thank goodness the side door opens just fine, so I can feed and water the beasts.

And to think, just 11 years ago, I was in Penascola....

Monday, January 31, 2011

Enough! Basta! Genug!

From (my local NBC affiliate):

Snowfall so far this season & records:

November: 0.2"
December: 6.7"
January: 40.5" - A new record!!
Total: 47.4"

Seasonal Average (Dec, Jan, Feb): 36.4"

Yearly average: 49.4"

Monthly record: 48.0" (March, 1956)

Seasonal record: 107.7" (1996)

and 12-24" forecast for Tuesday through Wednesday night.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 wrap-up; 2011 goals

January: I turned 44. I had a party. It was Very Good. I attended Sharon Astyk's Apprentice Weekend at Gleanings Farm near Albany. She mentions this year's here: It was also Very Good! We knitted by the wood stove. We cooked on the wood-burning cook stove. We milked goats. Alexa and I talked a bit about raising rabbits for protein. We did a bit on herbal remedies and how to prepare/preserve them. We ate and laughed a LOT. When I got home, I was Seriously Coveting a woodburning cookstove, and since I'd already had a wall removed between my kitchen and living room to accommodate a woodstove, I decided to upgrade my plan. I located a 1909 Glenwood K cookstove in Eastern Mass on Craigslist, and purchased same. (I did have a bit of a wait until Steve, the all-around Useful Handyman, could bring it back to WMass for me) I started my final semester (barring one summer class) of my MA. I had a Shakespeare class at the Renaissance Center (fabulous!) and a Literary Theory class at Smith College (also terrific, in different ways).

February: Amanda turned 10. How did that happen? The children spent February vacation with the Other Parent so they could go skiing and stuff. By the way, OP, here in Massachusetts we just say skiing. If you need to specify, you say "water skiing". Otherwise it's safely assumed to mean what you insist on calling "snow skiing".

March: March came in, wet and muddy as an ill-mannered dog. Gosh, I wish I could remember where I read that!
The children and I went to the Smith College Bulb Show again. It looked and smelled divine!

April: Managed not to lose my mind as I finished up final papers. I was very satisfied with them! The children were with me for April vacation, which was lovely, as the weather was turning nice. They got to come over to Smith with me for my classes, and a roommate of one of the young ladies in my class watched them while I was in class. They ran around on the grass, had snacks in the student union, and said it was good fun. I saw footage of the volcanoes in Iceland... there was a man wearing an Icelandic sweater (no, really? go figure) in shades of blue... and I got to thinking, I need one of those! Then I realized that I was about to graduate with my MA, and I could probably just make one. I bought wool.

May: Beginning of May was very warm, and we lost a black buck (rabbit) to heat on Beltane. It was quite sad. Later in the month we lost another rabbit to heat, a pregnant doe, who died in our arms as we tried to cool her. It was heart-breaking. The children and I talked it over, then offered her body to homeschooling friends for a biology lesson. I hoped that in doing so, some small benefit could come from the rabbit's death.
I finished the two classes and though I still owed three credits, went through Commencement. Mom and the children came, of course, as did my girlfriend Christina (with her children!), and her husband (who's faculty, and stood to give me a hug as I crossed the stage). Other faculty friends were onstage as well, which was lovely. My friend Alicia was graduating, too; her daughter Clara is Amy Charlotte's best friend. It was a lovely day! The following weekend I had a big party to celebrate. What a great time we had. The house and yard were full of people I like, there were children on the swingset, playing soccer, playing with the rabbits... I can't imagine a better party. I started knitting on the Icelandic sweater.

June: Adam turned 12, Amy Charlotte turned 7, school ended with a flurry of parties and birthday cupcakes. Adam "graduated" from 6th grade, earning awards in both math and art!
Steve started building the long-awaited barn, using locally sourced pine barn boards. I read in her LJ that Lady Karelia was going to be in the vicinity, so we arranged to meet up at the Forest Park Zoo in Springfield. We had a really fabulous day! In fact, it was so much fun that she and her son came back again the next day, here to the house. The children got on beautifully (her son is Adam's age) and a Good Time Was Had By All. A few days later I had a minor surgery on my neck to remove what turned out to be a bone spur. The incision has healed up nicely, so I don't have to deal with the Frankenstein look. The day after that, we made our annual pilgrimage to the Cape to visit with my brother, SIL, and four nieces. Again, we had a lovely time, though I couldn't swim due to the stitches.

On the 1st, I finally did what I've been saying I was going to do for a year-plus, and chopped off my hair. And I do mean chopped. A friend described the cut as a crew cut, and though I wanted to argue, I couldn't.
See, my Great Plan was to get rid of all the colored stuff at once, because I didn't think I could endure watching it grow out, becoming brassier and brassier. So... off it came. I sent a 21" ponytail to Locks of Love and called myself satisfied. I took my last class, "Writing and the Teaching of Writing," through the Western Mass Writing Project. Billed as a K-16 class, it was filled with mostly middle- and high-school teachers who've been doing the job for years. I really enjoyed the class, and in a nice symmetry, one of the teachers of this my last class was a man who'd been a teacher in my high school from when I was 14. The first Tuesday in July, which was also the first day of the class, was 100.6*F, the hottest I can recall since moving back up here. It was horrible, and one of my best Cinnamon does died from the heat. She was in the shade, and had water to drink, but it was just too hot for her. We grieved. The cookstove made its way from Eastern Mass to Steve's place to the Good Time Stove Company in Ashfield, where it was fully rehabbed. It's GORGEOUS.

August: I took the children up to Niagara Falls, both New York and Ontario, for a weekend. What a fabulous trip. We had a great time. They were so excited to stand on the bridge over the Niagara River and scream, "I'm in the the US! Now I'm in Canada!" After this trip, they went to the Other Parent's for 2 weeks, and since they're not allowed to call me from there, I took the opportunity to nip out to the UK for a lovely vacation. It will definitely require its own post, though. While on said trip, I finished the Icelandic sweater. When I returned, I entered it into the Cummington Fair, a local agricultural fair, where the children like to show the rabbits. Actually, we entered quite a number of exhibits (rabbits, sweater, bread, brownies, art) and did quite respectably. My sweater won a 3rd place ribbon! The lady who won the 1st place ribbon TOTALLY deserved it - not only was her sweater much more complicated than mine (a Fisherman's pattern, which is scary stitchwork) but she had raised and sheared the alpaca and spun the wool herself. *sigh* My white bread took a 1st place ribbon; my brownies took at 2nd place ribbon. The rabbits cleaned up in their respective categories, since relatively few youth raise and/or show larger breeds. We were blessed again by the company of Lady Karelia and her son, who came to the fair with us!

September: Adam started middle school. Huh-what? He loves it, bless him. I'm so thankful that his experience in that building is so different than mine was! My girlfriend Donna came up on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. We worked on making order from chaos upstairs in the children's and guest rooms. On Sunday night I fell ill, and was the sickest I've been in years, if ever, for two solid weeks. Turned out to be a bacterium associated with food poisoning called Campylobacter, and I'm here to tell you it was NASTY. I lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks, and it was until Christmas before I felt better.

October: I continued to feel crappy. I couldn't even stand up to sing, lest I come over dizzy. Made Choral Society rehearsals a Lot Less Fun. Steve finished the barn, at long last, and we moved the hens into it. Despite feeling crappy, and having to ask him to shovel out the shed/henhouse, I did manage to powerwash the shed clean. Boy, did it need it. It was very satisfying.

November: Steve brought the cookstove and we put it in the kitchen on a dolly, pending finding someone to install a stovepipe up through the roof for me. I was Not Patient. I had to have a colonoscopy/endoscopy, which wasn't too horrible. I also had a referral to an orthopedist about the PITA I've had since a year ago Thanksgiving. Turns out NOT to be a muscle problem at all, but rather a disc problem causing sciatica. Urgh! All that PT time misdirected! I resumed PT with a new focus. We adopted two formerly-feral kittens from the local shelter to be our barn cats. I wanted to call them Dobby and Winky, but was overruled. The male (B/W tuxedo) is called Spot, and the female (tabby, I'm told) is called Bengal.

December: Had an MRI of my back, followed by an epidural shot of cortisone, which did not do as much as I'd hoped. Finally got a stovepipe installed a week and a half before Christmas! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this cookstove.
The warmth of a wood stove is just something entirely different from any central heat source. I am learning how to cook in and on it; on is not so hard, but my wood isn't as dry and seasoned as I'd like, so it's hard to get the fire hot enough to heat and maintain good heat in the oven. Christmas was fantastic this year! The children were home with me (hurray) and we had a lovely day. We cooked a roast in the oven, and it was delicious.

Now, to follow up from last year's summary: I started 2010 with 46 rabbits. While we were up over 100 a few times with litters this summer and fall, we presently have (runs to count) 86-ish. Yikes. I started with 42 hens, added some, subtracted some, and have just over 60 at present. The barn being finished, complete with ferocious (if under 5 pounds!) cats, next project will be to add a good fence so we can get our dairy goats and beef cow. The gardens did poorly again, though some of that was problems sowing at appropriate times due to graduate school, followed by horrendous heat, and then by being really, really sick during harvest time. I did manage to can some tomatoes, though. I built a new bed, 15x16', divided into three 5x16' sections. The rear-most bed is asparagus; the middle bed was potatoes (which did ok, since I didn't irrigate), and the bed next to the driveway was soup beans, which I never quite got out to harvest. The blueberry bushes did have fruit, but the birds got it. The peach tree and one of the apple trees in the front yard both had fruit which mysteriously vanished just as it was almost ripe. I blame the squirrels. I loathe squirrels. The bulbs I planted two summers ago were supplemented by more bulbs this spring from the Smith College Bulb Show, and the bed was really quite lovely. I also planted zinnias and marigolds, which joined the perennial coneflowers and black-eyed Susans and peonies. The overseeding of the front lawn turned out pretty well, even during August and September when it was so, so dry. I did experiment with tractoring rabbits; growth rate was slower, but acceptable. My intention is to pursue this program for the next few years, keeping back the largest doe from each litter and the largest buck from each group of litters in each breed, in the hope of selecting for good growth on a mixed grass-and-pellet diet. Feed prices won't be coming down, I don't think, so more sustainable is good. The dogs, who were old, lame, and deaf last year are older, still lame, and more deaf this year. Sheba is 14 1/2, Decker is 14, and Lily is a lovely 6 - still energetic but a bit less wild.

The goals I had for 2010:

I want to finish my Masters. DONE!
I'd like to get my wood stove installed and working. DONE!
I'd like to get rid of about 20% of the stuff in my house - yard sale, Craigslist, consignment, Salvation Army, etc. Still working on this one, now with a firm plan of action, complete with spreadsheet.
I want to keep singing. Yup, still singing.
I want to get all the moving parts of my body working properly again, and keep them that way. Yeah, this one is a bit problematic. The correct diagnosis on the back/PITA helps a lot with this. I did get the blown-up elbow working again, though.
I want to work out in the gym at least three times every week, and continue with Weight Watchers, such that I reach my goal weight (between 142-148). I'm not sure where I am presently, but it's slightly north of 170. Um, yeah. So my gym closed down abruptly, and I haven't bothered joining another one. I did lose those 20 pounds in 3 weeks in September, but they came back, drat them. WW got too expensive. So... I'll keep working on this one, ok?
I'd like to get five litters from each of my 15 does in 2010. The girls did great this year, despite heat problems. We'll keep on breeding for meat and breed preservation this year!
I'd like to get to more rabbit shows this year - not a huge goal, since we only showed in one fair last year. Nope, we only went to that same one this year, though Adam came home with a trophy from it!
I want to get the shed built, the fencing up, and add the goats and the beefer cow. 16x20' shed turned into 20x30' barn, and I'm glad - I would have cursed myself in 5 years if I'd stayed small. We ran out of autumn on the fencing, though, so that'll go in come spring when the ground isn't so hard ("Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone"). No goats before fences. Repeat after me, friends: No goats before fences!

And for 2011, some similar goals:
Follow the plan with spreadsheet and tame the beast that is a house with too much stuff in it.
Get moving parts working properly, and keep them that way. PT and home exercise are essential to this goal.
Manage weight. Yup, need to do that.
Continue to breed for show, meat, and breed preservation. Select for excellent growth on pasture.
Show the rabbits - it's good for the breeds, and it's good for sales of brood stock.
As mentioned above, put up fencing, get dairy goats and beef cow.
And some new ones:
Contact the local Adult Ed folks and set up to teach some classes - I'm thinking knitting, mending, cooking, menu-planning, gardening, sustainable living, food preservation (canning, both methods; freezing), life skills for children. Suggestions are welcome!
Pursue licensure to sell rabbit to the public. Nobody is quite sure whose purview this is - I've talked to town hall, state ag folks, and federal ag folks. Everyone thinks it's a great idea; nobody knows who's on first. *sigh* Well, it's not the first time I will have blazed a trail, right?
Get back on my bike/drive less. This is good for health, thrift, and the planet.

clean up, more snow, and stuff

I have caught three more mice - one in the garage, one in the basement, and one in the barn. One of the children left the lid off of the metal garbage can in which the chickens' scratch feed is kept. The next morning, when I went out to care for the beasts, there was a wee mousie in there! Adam scooped up Spot and dropped him into the can. Spot is now a fully qualified mouser... well, he can catch and harass a mouse, anyway. I can't independently verify that he killed the thing, since 20 minutes later he was still playing with it. Good Spot! Those two cats have been quite expensive, so I'm very pleased to confirm that he, at least, can do the job for which he was hired.

Mom took the five of us to see Wizard of Oz on Saturday. It was a local community theater production, and it was FANTASTIC. The big brother of one of Amy Charlotte's friends was the Lion, and he did a terrific job.

Last Wednesday's snow topped out at 22".
Thursday morning, I cranked up the snowblower and over the course of several hours, cleared the driveway, the front walk, a path to the woodpile, a path to and past the composter and to the back gate, through the back gate, and all around the back yard. Wading through deep snow can be fun, but when you've got serious back problems, wading through deep snow while schlepping a 5-gallon bucket full of warm water is just A Bad Idea. Plus, the children just LOVE having a maze through the snow.

I invested in an outdoor water heating element, intended for a 5-gallon bucket, but which lives in my galvanized rain barrel below the downspout. Oh, how I love it! I ordered it from Amazon, and so help me, next year I'll have one for each rain barrel. Not having to carry a bucket through and out of the house? Huge!

It turned cold - really cold - we saw -10.7F a couple of mornings ago. I had window quilts installed a while back - I love them - and in case you wonder whether they work - behold what hides behind them! Yes, that's ice on the glass.

I have a rabbit who needed a name - a Californian doe. My naming convention for Californians is to use Old Norse names. Hugin and Munin were the ravens who rode on Thor's shoulder. (or was it Odin's? Drat, I forget) Skathi (SkaĆ°i) was the goddess of snow and skiing. So this lass needed a name. Well, she gave birth to a fine healthy litter of 6 during the big 22" snow storm, so I gave her the name of one of the three Fates (there's the fate of the past, of the present, and of the future, and I think this doe qualifies as the Fate of the Future here at Blessed Acre!) - Verdandi.

Now to get off of my keester and back upstairs to the clean-up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow like we mean it

20" as of noon. That's a true New England snowfall - and I haven't seen one for way too long. Who needs an elliptical trainer when there's that much snow to slog through to feed and water the animals?

Lily and Decker had a ball in the snow!

and the bunnies were all snugly insulated with a snowy blanket.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Excellent post on local food traditions by my friend Sharon

Read! Think! Learn!

Mousies everywhere!

5 mice in 24 hours. I knew there were mice around - I've seen the poo - they've been chewing open the bags of chicken feed - but FIVE in 24 hours? Two from the basement, where the traps were tripped again this morning but no mice in them, and three from the garage. Good thing there are cats in the barn now!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A buncha books that need new homes

First come, first served. If you're local, come get 'em. If you're not, I'll need a mailing address.

Ludlum, Robert. Trevayne. Paperback
Cooper, Jill, and Tawra Kellam. Dig out of Debt. Oversize paperback
Duffy, Cathy. 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Paperback
Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. Hardcover
Taylor, Michael. Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft. Oversize hardcover
The United States: A History of the Republic. Teacher's Edition. Textbook size hardcover
Lyon, Rowen, Hamerow: A History of the Western World. Hardcover
The Story of Christmas. Boxed set of three children's books
Bountiful Blessings for busy women - finding joy and inspiration during the holidays. Softcover
God's Little Instruction Book for Women. Small paperback
Tileston, Mary. Daily Strength for Daily Needs. Paperback
The Upper Room. Disciplines: A book of daily devotions 2009. Paperback
Cooper, Jill. Penny Pinchin' Mama: 500 ways I lived on $500 a month. Paperback
Cookbook - Spring Street Preschool family and friends cookbook - 2005-2006. Four copies. Spiral bound
Weil, Andrew. Healthy Child, Whole Child. Hardcover
Tyson, Eric. Mutual Funds for Dummies. Paperback
Tyson, Eric. Personal Finance for Dummies. Paperback

So this isn't strictly about the farm, but...

...I need order in my chaos. Here begins a saga of seeking such.

Do you ever have the feeling like there's so much that you want to do that you simply don't know where to start? And as a result, you do nothing? I've been there for a long, long time. I've formulated a plan that I hope will help me address this problem.

It starts with a spreadsheet in Excel. I divided my empire up into thirteen sections - Master Bedroom, Master Bath/Linen Closet/my closet, Boys' Room, Half Bathroom/Pantry closet, Girls' Room, Upstairs Bathroom/Guest Room, Kitchen, Office/Laundry/Hall Closet, Living/Dining/Sun Rooms, Basement, Garage, Attic, and Pasture/Barn. I made a worksheet for each location, and listed the tasks that I want to accomplish in each area. Each area gets a week, and the whole thing rotates four times a year. I fully expect that the first time through will be the most difficult (and painful), as there is a backlog going back years in some cases. I want to sort through all of it, and stop putting it off.

The Master Bedroom checklist (alphabetized, not in order of priority) reads thus, and there's room in the subsequent columns for the date each job is completed. I have found amazing things already - the missing cover for Amanda's microwave-able rice pack on the nightstand, a stack of photos dating back to when she was in preschool (she's in 5th grade now) and enough dust and grime to choke a dinosaur.
Clear off night stands
Dust bookshelves
Dust dresser
Go through dresser
Launder linens - spring
Put away books
Tidy cedar chests
Vacuum under bed
Vacuum window quilts
Vacuum window wells
Wash light fixture
Wash mattress pad
Wash picture glass
Wash windows

I have taken the opportunity to rearrange some of the furniture as well. I hope this will enhance the feeling of being freshened up. The dogs are rather freaking out, though.

In other news, there was 2" of snow yesterday morning, and an additional inch this morning. It's all nice and fluffy, which makes it easy to shovel. I did slip and go top over teakettle in the back yard yesterday, but landed on my elbow rather than my back or posterior. Thank goodness! I'll take an egg on my elbow over further damage to my back any day. I go tomorrow morning for another shot of cortisone, this one in a new and different location, in my continuing pursuit of healing and pain relief.